Home » The Peugeot 309 GTi 16 Was A Practical Family Sports Car, Now It’s On The Verge Of Extinction: Holy Grails

The Peugeot 309 GTi 16 Was A Practical Family Sports Car, Now It’s On The Verge Of Extinction: Holy Grails

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Just the other day I found myself falling down a rabbit hole of endangered and extinct birds. As someone who loves birds, it pains my heart to know the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō is now presumed extinct after what was believed to be the very last survivor was heard in 1987. I can’t even imagine being the last of a kind. This happens with cars, too. The Peugeot 309 sold over 1.6 million units over its run, but populations have dwindled. And while I wouldn’t call 309s rare, that term absolutely applies to the hopped-up 309 GTi 16. This was a practical hot hatch living in the shadow of the far more popular 205 GTi even though the 309 GTi 16 was arguably the better choice. Now, depending on where you live, there are fewer than 100 of them on the road.

Last time on Holy Grails, we took a look at the Honda CBR250RR MC22. Motorcycles in the small 250cc class are often seen as slow and not particularly thrilling. These are the sorts of motorcycles you buy as a beginner and sell as soon as you’re more confident. Back in Japan in the 1980s, things were different. Larger motorcycles placed more restrictions on riders, so a thriving market of 250cc-class motorcycles existed. Japanese motorcycle manufacturers took their baby bikes and developed them like they were supersports, leading to a quartet of 250s with inline fours revving as high as 19,000 RPM and sounding like a vintage F1 car.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

Today, we return back to the world of cars. However, we are sticking with a theme of once forbidden fruit that Americans can now import and enjoy — well, Americans can import this car if they can find one!

Pictures Peugeot 309 1986 2 (1)
Peugeot

This story takes us back to 1980s Europe. Automakers in this era were pumping out a number of vehicles that many might consider legends or icons today. One of Peugeot’s more famed vehicles from this era is the 205 GTi, a car that some regard as one of the best hot hatches of all time. Enthusiasts had the choice to pair their 205 GTis with a 1.6-liter four making 105 HP or a 1.9-liter four making 130 HP. Combine that with a total weight under 2,000 pounds plus a stout chassis and the little Peugeots would be considered relatively hot cars even today. It’s no wonder sites like Autocar will wax poetic about the 205 GTi. Peugeot didn’t stop with the 205 GTi and applied the speedy affordable car formula to other models. The 309 GTi 16 is one of them, but it lives in the shadow cast by the smaller, more popular sibling.

Rootes With Chrysler

S L1600 (29)
Chrysler via eBay

In 1958, Chrysler decided to make its mark on the international stage by purchasing a 15 percent stake in French company Simca from Ford. In 1963, Chrysler put more money in, acquiring a total of 63 percent of Simca by buying shares from Fiat. That same year, Chrysler also took 35 percent of Spanish bus, truck, and car manufacturer Barreiros.

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Chrysler’s buying spree included the purchase of Greece’s Farco in 1963 and an attempted purchase of an interest in Britain’s Leyland Motors in 1962. Chrysler didn’t get Leyland, but it did score a 30 percent share in Rootes Group (Hillman, Talbot, Sunbeam, and others) in 1964. By 1967, Chrysler’s European division was in full motion as the company purchased the remaining shares of Rootes. Farco, then renamed Chrysler Hellas S.A., ended production, but two years later Chrysler would take control of Barreiros.

Panalon1
Transportes Panalon

 

In 1970, Rootes was renamed Chrysler UK Limited with Simca becoming Chrysler France. During the existence of Chrysler UK, storied British names such as Hillman, Humber, Singer, and Sunbeam saw their badges phased out and their vehicles called Chryslers. Between vehicles that were long in the tooth and general brand confusion, Chrysler’s European operations struggled to stay viable. In 1978, Chrysler decided to pull the plug, selling off the European division to Peugeot. Now under Peugeot control, some cars that were once branded as Chryslers, Hillmans, and Simcas were renamed to Talbot, a brand that at that time was dead.

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Iran National Manufacturing Co.

The UK branch of Talbot built cars out of its factory in Ryton and at the time, one of the largest sources of revenue was the Hillman Hunter, which was exported to Iran in knock-down kits.

The 309

The Peugeot 309 started as Projet C28 as a replacement for the Talbot Horizon, an internationally-sold car offered under a couple of different names. Engineering would be done at Simca’s site in Poissy in France while styling was handled at the Whitley plant in Ryton in the UK.

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Wallpapers Peugeot 309 1985 1
Peugeot

While a new car, the 309 would employ the Peugeot 205’s floorpan and doors and the drivetrains from the outgoing Horizon. The 309 was actually supposed to be called the Talbot Arizona.

In 1982, the public got to catch what would inspire the Arizona’s design with the Peugeot VERA Plus, an aerodynamic design study that slipped through the air with a coefficient of drag of just 0.22.

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Peugeot

There was one problem with calling the new car a Talbot. Interest in Talbot was waning and sales were plummeting. The Talbot Tagora was a sales flop and the Peogeot 205 eclipsed the Peugeot 104-based Talbot Samba. Cars like the 205 made people interested in Peugeot while Talbot was quickly losing momentum. PSA began to reconsider its strategy with Talbot. At the 11th hour, PSA decided to change course with the Arizona.

What would PSA do with the car? Talbot was quickly losing brand equity. At the same time, the car was slightly larger than a Peugeot 205 and a Citroën AX while being smaller than a Peugeot 305 and the Citroën BX. Ultimately, PSA decided to slot the new car between the smaller and larger Peugeots in order to give the brand something to compete against the likes of the Opel Kadett and the Vauxhall Astra. Giving the new car a name was also a challenge. Reportedly, 206 was a consideration, but that didn’t work for Peugeot’s naming convention.

Wallpapers Peugeot 309 1989 1
Peugeot

In 1985, PSA announced the end of Talbot as a brand. Later that year, the 309 hit the streets. Here’s what Stellantis says about it today:

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Produced between 1985 and 1994 in Poissy, Spain and Great Britain, the PEUGEOT 309 was the first true “compact” car in the modern sense: it was no longer a classic 4-door notchback like the 304 and 305, but a hatchback. With a length of 4.05 m, it is 19 cm more compact than a 305 (4.24 m in its saloon version). Inspired by the Talbot Horizon but with its own style, it borrows the platform and doors of the PEUGEOT 205, with elongated front and rear sections, and a glass bubble that characterises its hatchback.

Launched in a 5-door version, the 309 also came in a 3-door version two years later, in 1987. The 309 GTI, powered by the 1.9 litre 130 hp engine of the 205 GTI, was introduced. The 309 GTI accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 8 seconds and reached a top speed of 205 km/h. In 1989, the 309 GTI received the MI16 160 hp engine from the PEUGEOT 405: it became the 309 GTI 16, a formidable compact sports car respected by the competition. The 309’s career ended in 1994. Over 1.6 million units were sold.

The Grail

309 Gti 16s 2 0
Aguttes

The Peugeot 309 was available with a variety of gasoline and diesel engines. Power got as low as 55 HP in base models with the 1,118cc four. At first, the top-of-the-line model was the SR, which made 79 HP from its four-cylinder engine. The SR is notable for its luxury features such as central locking, power windows, velour seat trim, and fiber optics in its dashboard. Options included metallic paint, remote locking, fog lights, a sunroof, and more. This is not our Grail. For Cristi M, there are two Peugeot grails and one of them is the 309 GTi:

Peugeot built the 104 ZS2 for homologation purposes in rallying, yet it is severely under the radar now.

A similar fate has the Peugeot 309GTi. It has the 16v 1.9 like in the bigger 405, but less weight, closer to the 205GTi. The 309GTi is mostly forgotten today.

Screenshot (505)
Peugeot

 

As our reader and Stellantis note, in 1987 Peugeot released the 309 GTi. Early models of the 309 GTi featured the 1.9-liter four from the 205 GTi. Since the 309 was essentially a bigger 205, what Peugeot really did was create a 205 GTi with more practicality. But that really doesn’t tell the whole story. The 309 GTi had a weight gain of just 44 pounds over the 205 GTi, weighing in at roughly 2,145 pounds. As a result, the bigger, more family-friendly 309 GTi hit 60 mph in 8 seconds, just 0.2 seconds slower than the 205 GTi. Here’s a 205 GTi and a 309 GTi:

Photos Peugeot 205 1991 1
Peugeot
Images Peugeot 309 1986 3
Peugeot

Two years later, Peugeot would nab the 1.9-liter engine from the Peugeot 405, creating the 309 GTi 16. With 160 HP on tap, the 309 GTi 16 was now just as fast as the 205 GTi to 60 mph and raced on to a higher top speed of 137 mph. There was also a version of the 309 GTi called the Goodwood. Sold only in the UK and in just 398 copies, the Goodwood edition got a leather interior, a wooden steering wheel and gear knob as well as other cosmetic changes. If the 205 GTi was a hot hatch, the 309 GTi 16 was even hotter. Reportedly, reviews even compared the 309 GTi to the 205 GTi, calling it a version of the hot hatch with greater refinement and more space.

Here’s a quick period review of a Peugeot 309 GTI 16 from MotorSport magazine:

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In Britain, the Peugeot 309 GTI is the overlooked big brother of the chic 205 equivalent. Whereas approximately 10,000 205 GTIs are sold a year (of which the 130 bhp 1.9-litre version accounts for over 60%) the 309 GTI struggles to sell 1000 units per annum. Thus when Peugeot France decided to sell a comparatively specialist 16-valve derivative of the 309 in the summer of 1989, Peugeot UK could honestly advise the parent company of the projected poor return for the extensive outlay needed for a RHD derivative. So the 309 avec 16 soupapes remained for French gourmet consumption only.

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Pistonheads Seller

Donington is not a simple track, even in its shorter guise, but the white 309 made it appear so. Acceleration from the pits was delivered with zest and moderated wheelspin in the lower gears. Once in third it was obvious that the chassis would happily accommodate another 20 bhp, for you only have to acclimatise to the power-steered numbness and occasional front-drive weave during hard cornering before using full throttle for 95 per cent of cornering situations. The only defect seemed to be the way in which the rear brakes would grab, making fast entries to slower corners untidy.

Otherwise the Peugeot was as straightforwardly enjoyable to drive as you would expect from its road cousins. I am only surprised that the British factory does not seem to encourage privateers to run hard alongside the works team, a stark contrast to British rallying, in which Peugeot GTI Club Peugeots often save organisers the embarrassments of spindly entry lists.

309 Gti 16s 20 0
Aguttes

And that brings us to rarity. Peugeot sold more than 1.6 million 309s between 1985 and 1994. I couldn’t tell you how many are remaining in the world, but the UK’s fleet can give us a clue about the extinction-level event happening to these poor cars. In 2001, there were roughly 109,000 309s on the road. By 2018, there were roughly 481 of them left. If the number plate tracking site How Many Left is anywhere near correct, there are just 250 309s of all types left in the UK. I won’t go through each version of the 309, but How Many Left notes 37 different combinations of trim level and engine.

If you narrow your search down to just 309 GTis, things get bleak. There are 41 309 GTis currently on the UK’s roads plus another 30 Goodwood editions. If you fancy a 309 GTi with an automatic transmission, there’s just one of them left. To put this into perspective, in 1994, there were 9,395 309 GTis on UK roads. It would seem that unlike the 205 GTi, which has 907 survivors, collectors just aren’t lining up to save the hot version of the 309.

309 Gti 16s 26 0
Aguttes

With that said, currently, you can find 65 309 GTis for sale around the world, just three of them of GTi 16 flavor. Sadly, none of them are in America, so you’ll want to contact an importer if you want one. The good news is that you can easily find one for under $20,000, or for roughly the same price as a driver-quality 205 GTi.

So, if you’re looking for a quirky multinational hot hatch, one that will certainly be the only one at a car show, perhaps consider a Peugeot 309 GTi. You won’t stomp any modern car with it, but these sound like plenty ’80s spicy car fun.

Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com or drop it down in the comments!

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GertVAG
GertVAG
7 months ago

Love love love this, wonderful that the 309 got an article here. I always liked the design and saw a lot of the base versions around here in Belgium when I was little but they have now quietly disappeared. The 309 GTI (even the non 16v) is a dream collection car of mine but alas, I don’t have the place nor the finances for it currently.

Louis SOUCHET
Louis SOUCHET
7 months ago

Bonjour,

the 309 GTI16 is indeed the best FWD car until the Integra type R came in the market.
Your first picture is alas a “phase 1” 309, different grill/plastic spoiler around the rear hatch/larger rear lights, and it was only available in GTI guise, the GTI16 was all the talk of the midlife “phase 2” refresh.

Concerning the use of the british market to reflect the scarcity of the GTI16, i have to reckon the practicality of “how many left”, but this market was also very prone to like all motor-no chassis OPEL/Vauxhall’s and the even worse warm Fords of this era, so i suspect the french cars undersold there compare to France or even Germany.

Engine swaps are an absolute NO here, basic idea is you can do whatever modification the manufacturer allows you to, so feel free to ask 😉

There was exceptions though, like the brownish MI16 swapped 205 GTI, i saw in the Peugeot paddock at a 905-era 24 hours of Le Mans, guess the answer was not no when you were Jean Todt …

The absolute grail of the 309 would be a GTI with the factory turbo kit used in the “trophée 309”, make mine a 5 door please.

Alas most of the 309 sold were unloved utilitarian ones, perfectly reflecting the period slogan “La 309, toujours partante!”

Oui oui baguette,

Louis.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
7 months ago

You had me at bird lover Love my wild pets.

Wasn’t aware of the Peugeot 309 GTi 16, actually any of these models, but really enjoyed the in depth discussion.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

For folks who want to sound French, for whatever weird reason, “Chrysler” is pronounced “crease lair.”

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

Good one. That quote, though:

> the chic 205 equivalent

There was never anything chic about the 205, and certainly not the 205 GTI. It was an inexpensive hot hatch that delivered relatively cheap thrills, head to head with the Golf GTI at the time. Mostly owned by younger unmarried men who liked to have fun.

The Chrysler branding was a mess. At various times there were “Chrysler,” “Chrysler-Simca,” “Simca,” and “Talbot-Simca” IIRC. And “Matra-Simca” too. Talbot never really had a brand identity. Simca had cool shitboxes in the 1970s (the quick 1000 and the abysmal 1100) and did have some brand equity into the 1980s, but not much compared to Peugeot’s myriad models that were generally pretty good. Few people cared when Simca went away. Nobody noticed when Talbot did.

The Tagora was Talbot’s impression of a luxury sedan. It had some flourishes like molded cup holders in the glove box lid for champagne flutes, and IIRC the upholstery was neat, with some tartan and flannel. The exterior styling was kind of cool and unusual, looking a bit like a cautious moray eel. It came and went and I’m not sure Tagora owners even noticed.

Last edited 7 months ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Camille
Camille
7 months ago

I wasn’t born at the time, but I’m french and have always been a car lover so I’ve read a lot. From my understanding, the 205 (and golf) GTI was a very trendy car in the 80’s. One part of the market, even if it was not intended, was the young rich urban woman. It was small, practical, easily identifiable as expensive (at least more expensive than a regular 205, renault 5). Think of it as the modern Fiat 500 / Mini of the day. As such it was a hit in big cities like Paris. Remember that at the time the smallest Mercedes was the 190 and the smallest BMW the e30. Quite big cars by French standards. That is why Renault came up with the Renault super 5 Baccara and Peugeot later made the 205 Griffe (more luxury oriented GTI with a detuned engine and a lovely color) and CTI (cabriolet) to capitalize on that market.

Goblin
Goblin
7 months ago

To be very clear, the 309 Gti16 has always been a “locomotive product” as the French call it, that is – a model meant to increase the sales of its lower grade siblings.

The 309 series sold well, but not as well as the 205, and needed all the help it could get. The 309 Gti16 was such help.

Fans begged for a 205 Gti16, which never came, on purpose – as Peugeot’s beancounters knew that from the second it comes out, not a singe 309 Gti16 would ever be sold, which in itself was no big deal, but apparently each Gti16 sold pulled with it a bunch of lower specced 309s sold as well.

The 16v engine was cooked in all flavors – 309 Gti16, 405 Mi16, 406 Mi16x4 (AWD), a Citroen BX 19 Gti16, and even an amazing 405 T16 (turbocharged 200hp version with a stock overboost to 220hp for 30-something seconds).

It was just never put factory in a 205, because Peugeot was already selling all the 205s it could paint.

To add insult to injury, swapping engines was not a simple drop-in procedure by any means, quite far from dropping a B-series engines into a 5-gen Civic. Despite the 309 and 205 being almost the same car, upgrading a 205 with a 309 Gti16 powerplant turned out to be quite an endeavor.

Fans never got over this, and with reason.

In the factory’s defense – the 309 has a wheelbase that’s 2″ longer than the 205.
And the 309 Gti16 was already considered in most reviews at the time as being “Pas a mettre entre toutes mains“, or “not for everyone“.
It was extremely fast for its size and wheelbase, and it was known to (beautifully) oversteer at very high speeds, with a light and nimble behind, which was controllable provided the drivers knew what they were doing (and many owners didn’t).

A 205 with the same powertrain would have been even snappier.

A 309 Gti16 wouldn’t be sellable new nowadays. It would have been an issue for legal departments even in the late 90’s – already, the very first Audi TT had a snappy behind at accelerator release, and was subject to recall in Europe to reprogram the behavior of the gas pedal on sudden release (transforming it into an unnamable hog), as three people died in Germany in high speed oversteer situations.

Last edited 7 months ago by Goblin
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

> being “Pas a mettre entre toutes mains“, or “not for everyone“.

Not quite. “Not for everyone” implies it’s an acquired taste. “À ne pas mettre entre toutes les mains” means not everyone will be able to handle it. It’s a phrase that implies danger, especially to the self. E.g. like a big unusual knife.

Goblin
Goblin
7 months ago

No contest, French is my second language, English is my third.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
7 months ago

I adore the 309, but rumor has it that the whole Talbot Arizona thing is purely urban legend which has taken the place of truth in the myopic mess of PSA’s modern history. Reading NRJ’s account on Driven to Write regarding the saga where he translated a few French articles on the matter, the rumors were created because of all the Talbot engineers on the job and the fact that it was built in Ryton, but it was always meant to be a Peugeot. It was called the 309 because introducing a ‘306’ at the time would have put it at odds with the rest of the -05 lineup.

I think it would be fascinating to reach out to him and see if he can supply his sources as it would be awesome to finally get to the bottom of this given how prevalent the mystique of the ‘Arizona’ has become in the context of the 309’s story. There’s no doubt of Talbot heritage in the 309, but whether or not it was meant to become one is known only to the French!

Last edited 7 months ago by Alexander Moore
Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
7 months ago

I was a hot hatch buyer during the 309 era and the reason I never once considered one was that they are, and I’m being kind here, the 205’s fat ugly sister.

The 205 was perfect. The 309 was ok from the b-pillar forwards. Given the choice you’d have to really, really want more space to not have the pretty car.

Because I’m a moron I bought an AX GT instead of either, and that put me off French cars for life.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

> Because I’m a moron I bought an AX GT instead

Ouch

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
7 months ago

Currently one for sale, just under £15k:

https://www.pistonheads.com/buy/listing/14740370

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Urgh, a five door. You could have warned us.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
7 months ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

100% this – the 3-door looks good, for some reason the 5-door looks a bit clumsy to me.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
7 months ago

Five doors allows me to throw my cloak on the back seat easily.

EXL500
EXL500
7 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

I’ve actually preferred the 4/5 doors for this reason. But now I live in Florida, so there is no ‘cloak’, but there are old people like me who need to get in and out.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
7 months ago

That How Many Left site is an absolute time suck. Thanks, Mercedes.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
7 months ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Just 103 of my car left.

If only rare meant valuable.

Mark
Mark
7 months ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

6 of one of mine. There are 6 1969 Lotus Europas plated in the UK this year! But 16 in which DVLA didn’t fill out the year.

VanGuy
VanGuy
7 months ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

I’d give a kidney (or at least my appendix) for a US version of that site. Damn.

Phuzz
Phuzz
7 months ago

It might have a bigger engine than the 205 GTi, but it doesn’t look anywhere near as good. In my opinion anyway.
PS, on howmanyleft, you can see the number currently still road legal, and also the number that are SORN’d (Statutory Off Road Notification). Those are cars that aren’t currently road legal, but the owner thinks/hopes it might be, so it’s kept on the register just in case.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago

Fancy an automatic? In a low power lightweight sports car? Just what demented combination of ideas would lead to that abominable desire?

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago

Yeah, sorry, I forgot not to kink shame for a minute

VanGuy
VanGuy
7 months ago

I was born in 1995, and my two cars I’ve owned have been a conversion van and a Prius v. I’d be happy to take an automatic.

Sincerely,

A Heathen and a Philistine

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Those both make sense. They’re meant to be utilitarian. Plus, they’re not available with a stick anyways

Camille
Camille
7 months ago

It was available on the japanese market with a detuned engine and an auto apparently. Maybe a grey import ?
source : https://fr.peugeot309.net/zoom-sur/asie

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